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To mark the occasion of the Pope’s visit, Lithuania presents to the world its sites of pilgrimage

2018-09-05

Pope Francis will visit Lithuania on this years September 22-23. He will meet the Lithuanian youth in the square of the main Lithuanian sanctuary the Cathedral of Vilnius, and he will pray and meet with the faithful in the Chapel of the Gate of Dawn, celebrate Mass in the Santaka Park in Kaunas, and pay tribute to the victims of Soviet crimes in the Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fights in the capital. In its preparation for the Popes visit, Lithuania is presenting to the world its sites of exceptional pilgrimage experience. 

·         The Hill of Crosses

The Jurgaičiai hill fort with 100,000 crosses, situated near the forth largest Lithuanian city of Šiauliai, is called the Hill of Crosses. It is one of the most famous symbols of Lithuania and the sacral place most visited by prayers. People of various nations and religions leave here crosses with their names, intentions and prayers for the God’s grace.

It is presumed that the first crosses were left here by relatives of the rebellions killed here in the uprisings of 1831. During the Soviet period, crosses were not tolerated here, and the hill itself became an undesirable and even prohibited place contradicting to the Soviet ideology. Crosses were burned and removed. However, the more efforts were put to destroy the hill, the more assertively people built crosses at night in spite of the danger, the authorities’ ban and prosecution. The Hill of Crosses became the symbol of unswerving national faith, pain and hope.

The Hill of Crosses became well known across the world after St. Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass here on 7 September 1993. He declared the Hill of Crosses an exceptional place where the pain and sufferings of the whole century meet and the hope of the resurrection lives. The Holy Father encouraged the construction of a Franciscan monastery next to the hill. Hundreds of pilgrims now visit the monastery to spend some time in quietness.

Lithuanian cross-making, by the fact, is one of the most unique crafts, included into the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage.

·         Vilnius Cathedral

The Cathedral Basilica of St Stanislav and St Vladislav of Vilnius is ranked among the hundred most beautiful cathedrals in the world. It is a classicist masterpiece of Lithuania’s capital. Although it has been more than once destroyed and burned throughout the twists of its long history, it is still standing magnificently in the very same place in the heart of Vilnius, at the feet of the Gediminas Castle Hill, and it remains the key sanctuary for all Catholics throughout the country and the place of major Christian, national and state celebrations.

The Cathedral was reconstructed to its present appearance in the late 18th century according to the design of Laurynas Gucevičius – most famous Lithuanian architect of Classicism. During the Soviet period the Cathedral was closed with all its treasures devastated and the glorious statues of saints on the roof removed and exploded. The Cathedral was returned to the faithful in 1988.

The interior of the Cathedral is abundant with decorative frescos, valuable pictures, sculptures, and tomb monuments. The Cathedral has one of the most valuable examples of the early Baroque epoch – the elegant Chapel of St. Casimir, where the coffin with the remains of St. Casimir and the legendary painting of the 16th c. depicting the three-handed saint are stored. St. Casimir, a Prince of the Kingdom of Poland and of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Poland, was famous for his devotion and was the first Lithuanian saint and patron. In Vilnius, his feast day is marked annually with Kaziukas Fair, held on March 4. 

Inside the catacombs of the cathedral are buried many famous people of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania: noblemen, bishops and dukes. It also has the oldest Lithuanian fresco (14-15th c.) depicting the crucifixion of the Christ.

The nearby Cathedral Square is the historical centre of the city and the most famous Lithuanian square. Massive red coloured stone inscriptions in the square remind about the defensive wall of Vilnius Lower Castle once situated here. The 57-metre-high white Bell Tower opposite the Cathedral is the remaining western tower of the wall surrounding Vilnius Lower Castle. In the late 17th century it was equipped with a clock. It is the oldest clock in the city and it is exceptional for not having a minute-hand. There is an attractive tile called “STEBUKLAS” (“miracle” in Lithuanian). Vilnius residents believe that if you step on this tile and spin around three times and make a wish, it will definitely come true.

Another tile in the direction down to the Gediminas avenue marks the miracle of the Baltic Way. This was the place where, back in 1989, about two million people from Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia joined their hands to make a 600 km long human chain for freedom. The central squares of Riga and Tallinn have similar tiles.

 

·         The Gate of Dawn

The Gate of Dawn in Vilnius is famous worldwide for its miraculous painting of the Virgin Mary Mother of Mercy. A great number of golden and silver votive offerings witness about mercies and miracles when praying for the intercession of the Mary of the Gate of Dawn.

Today, the Chapel of the Gate of Dawn is one of the most significant sanctuaries of Mary in Europe. However, in the 16th c., after the construction of the defence wall of Vilnius, the Gate was one of the nine magnificent Renaissance gates of the city. According to the then urban tradition, one side was decorated with an image of the Saviour of the world – Jesus, and the other with an image of Mary. Carmelites, who arrived to the city in the 17th c., constructed a huge monastery next to the city wall, and having witnessed people’s devotion to the image of the Virgin Mary, built a chapel in the gate of the city. This is how the devotion to Mary of the Gate of Dawn began to form.

Pope John Paul II visited this exceptional place, prayed here and reminded the people who gathered here that this is an exceptional place of unity between Christians. It is also can be seen from the number of Orthodox, Greek Catholic and Roman Catholic places of worship surrounding the Chapel of the Mother of Mercy.

·         The Divine Mercy Image

Pilgrims are invited to familiarise with Vilnius – the capital of Lithuania, as the city of Divine mercy. Vilnius is the city, which has one of the most recognisable and respected images of the Catholic Church in the world. Pilgrims cover thousands of kilometres to see it. It is an image of Divine Mercy, which was painted by the artist Eugene Kazimierowski in 1934 in Vilnius based on the visions of St Faustina. Small copies of the image soon spread across the world, and the original painting is worshipped in the Church of the Divine Mercy Sanctuary (Dominikonų g. 12) in Vilnius.

Sister Faustina, when living in Vilnius, had vision of Jesus and described them in her diary. This diary is one of the most globally renown books describing mystical experience. In 2000, Pope John Paul II canonized sister Faustina and announced her the first saint of the millennium. The house of the Church of the Divine Mercy Sanctuary, where St Faustina lived in 1933-1936, is situated in Vilnius, at V. Grybo g. 29. It is one of most famous pilgrimage sites in Vilnius.

·         The stone of apparition of Virgin Mary

Šiluva, a small town in the western part of Lithuania, attracts not only Lithuanian Christians, but also Christians from other countries, because it is the site of one of the first apparitions of Virgin Mary in Europe. The altar of the apparition church is built on the stones, on which the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared in 1608. From ancient times, prayers asking for Virgin Mary’s mercy and protection, go around the altar and these stones on their knees.

 

It has been 500 years that Šiluva celebrates the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The celebrations take place in September every year and last for a week.

The Church of Šiluva and the Chapel were included into the itinerary of St John Paul II as one of the key Lithuanian sanctuaries. There is a square with a sculpture of St Paul John II situated between the Church of Šiluva and the Apparition Chapel.

·         The Way of Saint James in Lithuania

In 2016, Lithuania joined the network of the Way of Saint James. There are 32 places in the country marked with the shell – the symbol of Saint James: 11 churches of Saint James, the Hill of Crosses, the Gate of Dawn, and other sanctuaries.

Four paths twist across Lithuania from the Latvian to the Polish border, and one path from Latvia to the Region of Kaliningrad.

·         The Route of St John Paul II

St John Paul II was the first pope to visit Lithuania. His visit in 1993 provided Lithuania with moral and diplomatic support after the restoration of its independence, strengthened the national spirit and the aspiration for unity. As mark of honour to the Pope, the key Lithuanian sanctuaries were united into a pilgrimage route called after John Paul II. The route goes through the most famous Lithuanian sacral places, presents the history of the national faith, the art, architecture and traditions of churches.

 
  • Trakai Church of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Pilgrims from all over the world are welcome to visit Trakai – a town situated not far from Vilnius and famous for its medieval castle standing on an isle in the middle of a lake. This year Trakai will mark the 300th anniversary of the crowning of the picture of Trakai Mother of God – Patroness of Lithuania, famous for its miracles.

 

On 3 September 2017, the Church of Trakai was granted the title of a basilica, and the celebration of the anniversary year started. The title of a basilica reminds of the historical significance of the Church of Trakai: it is one of this first churches built after the Lithuania’s baptism in the late 14th century.

 

The devotion to Mary of Trakai started emerging in the 17th c. On 4 September 1718, Mary of Trakai was crowned with golden papal crowns. It was the second event of such scope outside Rome. She was named as the Patroness of the Sick, and people called her the Patroness of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and later the Patroness of Lithuania. The eight days’ coronation ceremony marked the beginning of the annual religious feast of Trakai.

 

Today, Trakai feasts attract pilgrim processions from surrounding places and the whole of Lithuania. Every year hundreds of young people start their pilgrim trip from the Chapel of the Gate of Dawn to Trakai to pray to the image of Mary, the Patroness of Lithuania.

 
 

According to the information of the Department of Tourism, Tourist Information Centres, Vilnius Pilgrim Centre and Vilnius GO.

More information about the visit of the Pope: www.papalvisit.lt

#welcometoLithuania

 

Photographer: Andrius Aleksandravičius



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